Stacks of cases stretched across tables in the Band Instrument Repair workshop at Minnesota State College Southeast’s Red Wing campus on Aug. 7.
Inside those cases were trumpets, trombones and clarinets, waiting to be scooped up by Vega Productions, a Twin Cities nonprofit organization that puts repaired instruments in the hands of people all over the world.
For a year, band instrument repair students were fixing woodwind and brass instruments specifically to donate to Vega Productions.
In total, 95 instruments were donated to Vega Productions. The college and nonprofit hope that, after its first year of donation, that number can drastically increase.
The partnership began when John Maddox, an instructor at MSC, spoke with his wife about starting a nonprofit organization that would repair instruments and give them to people in need. Maddox came across Vega Productions and reached out to its executive director, Caitlin Marlotte.
Maddox, who wasn’t employed by MSC at the time, told Marlotte that Vega should talk with the school about a partnership.
If Maddox hadn’t been hired by MSC, he possibly would have volunteered or worked for Vega Productions.
Now, Vega Productions will receive 95 quality instruments to send all over the world thanks to MSC’s staff and students.
Maddox, along with instructors Greg Beckwith and John Huth, say being able to select the instruments they repair is helpful.
“The advantage of this program, we can ensure that the donated instruments are not only viable, but as viable as they can be,” Huth said.
MSC and Vega Productions both have many donated instruments sent to them. The key, according to Maddox, is finding instruments that may have been neglected for 25 years in a closet or attic somewhere. Student level, brand name quality instruments works well for teaching.
At Vega Productions, Marlotte said they rely on skilled volunteers to determine how salvageable an instrument is at their climate controlled storage unit in Hopkins. As Beckwith would say, if they give away a donated instrument that could make or break a student’s future in music; if they pick up a trumpet and don’t sound like everyone else because something is broken or wrong, what are the chances they ever pick it back up again?
The students realize the impact of their work, according to the instructors. Giving that gift of music makes it all worth it.
“It gives some tangibility and some reality to the student to know this is an instrument that’s going to make or break, potentially, someone experiencing music,” Maddox said. “Which is huge.”
The students do all of the work on these instruments. But instructors like Beckwith and Maddox still go through and play every single instrument to make sure they work properly.
MSC Interim President Larry Lundblad said they are “very excited” by the partnership and hope it can continue well into the future.
According to Vega Productions website, they have provided more than 30,000 students an opportunity to participate in music and art education program across Minnesota in the last decade.
Marlotte said they have been able to give instruments to students in 25 states and four countries as well.
In a short time, as new band repair students get ready for class, they’ll be met with a slate of more instruments that will be sent to Vega Productions by the end of their tenure in school.
The 95 instruments was just the start. By next year, that number could be doubled.